The Five Stages of Divorce Grieving – part 1: Denial is not just a river in Egypt

As an undergrad studying psychology, I took a class called “Death & Dying.” Early on in the class, we were introduced to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ work and her five stages of grieving the loss of a loved one. Many moons later, as a divorce attorney, I have incorporated her work into my law practice. Divorce feels very similar to the death of a loved one. Divorce is the death of a shared vision of the future, the death of companionship, and for parents, the death of an alliance in raising children. 

The first stage in grieving loss is denial that the loss has even happened. When I’ve been in denial, it’s because I tried to protect myself through avoidance. Avoidance can be helpful by buying you time to process the shock of what is happening. But avoidance can also be hurtful because the underlying feelings don’t receive the attention that is needed in order to move on. 

In divorce, the respondents (those served with divorce papers), tend to naturally be in denial. The initiation of a divorce can feel like an out of body experience. One day, you’re humming around just fine in your micro world. The next day, the doorbell rings and someone hands you life-changing paperwork. It’s gut wrenching. Sometimes people are completely caught off guard. Imagine it’s Tuesday after a long vacation weekend with your spouse and on this particular Tuesday a process server shows up at your workplace with divorce papers. You didn’t see it coming. You had just been celebrating the weekend before. What’s truly awful is the realization that your spouse had signed the papers prior to the weekend and acted innocent the entire time. These scenarios are excruciatingly difficult due to the level of betrayal and deception. 

Unfortunately, denial can last a long time. Like the actual river Nile, denial can meander through our divorce life without a direct linear flow. One day, you accept that the divorce is occurring and you’re emotionally ready. The next day, you delude yourself into thinking that your spouse will come back, apologize, and cancel the divorce. 

Denial can be found even years later post divorce. We can be fooled into thinking that someday, our former spouse will stop being a jerk about every little thing and return to a normal state of kindness. Then soon read another nasty message treating us like human coupons when it comes to sharing a child expense, no matter how minor the expense. 

In my experience, women seem to have more work to do accepting changed circumstances, especially high-achieving women. We are accustomed to working hard at achieving big accomplishments that sometimes we use that same drive to change our spouses, both current and former. We think if we just give it more effort, or are kinder, or are so good at – whatever, that the jerk will change. I’m certain that the energy some of us have put into changing our spouse could be power the western electrical grid. 

So, how do we deal with denial? As a divorce coach, I suggest starting by methodically listing the emotions that are avoided: sadness, anger, fear, betrayal, etc. These emotions are overwhelming when examined all at the same time. It helps to take the an emotion one at a time and analyze it in isolation. Journaling is great for this because it’s through writing that we organize our thoughts and can work through our feelings without interruption and distraction. If the emotions are unmanageable, then I recommend doing this in a therapeutic environment. 

My next article will discuss the emotion that typically follows denial, anger. 

For legal representation for a Florida divorce, my office office is located in Brevard County, Florida, but we accept cases state-wide and have virtual appointments available. or call (321) 951-7600. For divorce coaching services, please contact me through this site. 

The following two tabs change content below.

Sharp Divorce Coaching

Divorce is much more than a legal matter to you and your family. We understand this intimately and would be honored to provide you with direction, emotional support, and an unbiased opinion to help you come up with a game plan.

Latest posts by Sharp Divorce Coaching (see all)

%d bloggers like this: